Playlist #52

This marks the one-year anniversary of me starting this playlist project. It’s kept me writing here for the whole year, which I like. I’ve even gotten back into working on Novel #7 (I’m well-past the halfway point, I think).

For this playlist, I thought about doing a retrospective, selecting my favorite songs from other playlists. But I decided against that. I’ll do another post later this week where I examine the playlists as a whole, looking at who got played the most and how many songs I repeated (I think just one? I’m not sure, but I’ll find out!).

Anyway, remember there’s the Patreon. I’m about to post April’s song. I’m pretty proud of it. Anyway, without further ado, here’s this week’s playlist:

  1. Dr. Dog, “Lonesome”: I love the guitar in this one. Pretty sure it’s a dobro or resonator.
  2. Andrew Bird, “Atomized”: Andrew Bird has a new album coming out this summer. I’m stoked. If this song is any indication, it’ll be a great one.
  3. Jorge Orozco, “Gran Vals”: Orignally composed by Francisco Tarrega, this is the song that Nokia got its ringtone from. It’s a very pretty song.
  4. Langhorne Slim & the Law, “Put It Together”: I’m a sucker for a shout-along chorus.
  5. The Doubleclicks, “This Is My Jam”: I like jam. Who doesn’t like jam? Commies, that’s who.
  6. Dolly Parton, “Jolene”: This is the slowed down version, the one from the 45 played at 33 1/3 RPM. It’s haunting.
  7. Aimee Mann, “Phoenix”: What is it about the way Aimme Mann writes and plays songs that just captivates me? I just love everything about her sound.
  8. Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come”: Some days, you just need to let Sam take you home.
  9. Santana, “Evil Ways”: The way they add the, “baby,” to the end of certain lines in this song amuses me to no end.
  10. Bob Dylan, “Paths Of Victory”: My love for Dylan is no secret at this point. Someday, I’ll figure out an arrangement of this song for the guitar (rather than the piano he plays in this version). Until then, I’ll just have to sit and marvel at how well that man puts words together.

Playlist #44: Back in the Saddle

Happy Monday! I’m actually back to work today, after a month away taking care of the Wife. She’s improving every day, slowly but surely, and she’s well enough I’m comfortable leaving her home alone while I come toil away in education mines. A reminder that, if you want to support me making my own music, I’ve got that Patreon you can contribute to! I actually drop February’s song today!

  1. Genesis, “Turn It On Again”: I recently downloaded the album this song came from, Duke, and while this is definitely my favorite song off the whole record, the rest of the songs ain’t too shabby, either.
  2. Steve Winwood, “Back In The High Life Again”: “All the doors I closed one time/Will open up again.” Yes, they will.
  3. Aerosmith, “Back In The Saddle”: A bit of my anthem this morning.
  4. Andrew Bird, “Orpheo Looks Back”: Every playlist could benefit from some Andrew Bird, and I love this song.
  5. Bob Dylan, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”: “Beyond here lies nothin’/But the mountains of the past.” Maybe not Dylan’s most profound work ever, but I still dig the rhythm of this song and the guitar work.
  6. Gorillaz, “DARE”: I could dance this morning, I think.
  7. Glen Phillips, “Duck And Cover”: A more stripped-down version of a song that appeared on his Winter Pays For Summer album off of Tornillo.
  8. The Gaslight Anthem, “Stay Lucky”: Someday, I’ll put together a playlist of songs that I love to play on the guitar. This song will also appear on that list.
  9. Frank Turner, “The Way I Tend To Be”: I love this song for the mandolin mostly.
  10. CCR, “Midnight Special”: Another that I love to play on the guitar and howl along to at the top of my lungs, as one does with CCR songs.

Playlist #31 – Loooooong

Happy Monday after Thanksgiving, AKA “Online Consumer Armageddon.” I posted a list of stuff you can buy that benefits me back on Friday, for those who are curious. And now here I am with this week’s playlist, a set that features songs that are all about being long (but most of them are actually quite short).

  1. The Beatles, “Long, Long, Long”: Off the White Album, this quiet George Harrison gem is gorgeous and simple.
  2. Bruce Springsteen, “Long Time Comin'”: Features two of my favorite Boss lines: “Let your mistakes be your own” and “I ain’t gonna fuck it up this time.” Good stuff.
  3. Counting Crows, “A Long December”: With one of the best opening lines in any song, “A long December/And there’s reason to believe/Maybe this year will be better than the last.” Your lips to God’s ears.
  4. The Doobie Bros., “Long Train Runnin'”: My brother and I used to try to perform this one back in college. I…could not sing it then, and maybe sorta kinda can now, just not the way they do it.
  5. Green Day, “Longview”: I love how this song is mostly about the bass.
  6. The Hollies, “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)”: That one song that you always kinda thought was CCR but you weren’t 100% sure.
  7. Jars of Clay, “The Long Fall”: I’ve been a fan of these guys since I was back in high school dating a preacher’s kid. I kinda fell off for a few years, but their most recent stuff is still pretty darn good.
  8. Little Richard, “Long Tall Sally”: How do you not include Little Richard on this playlist, hmm? That’s the real challenge here.
  9. Bob Dylan, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”: I originally had a different Dylan song here (“The Man In The Long Black Coat”), but I think this one fits the general vibe and intent of the playlist better.
  10. Charlie Sexton, “It Don’t Take Long”: The train horn at the beginning of this song always throws me off, but it’s still lovely and all that.

Playlist #30: “Poor, Hard-Working Televangelist”

Happy Turkey Week, folks! Just two days of work for me this week, then it’s off to Ohio to visit some family and stuff myself with more food than is advisable because, hey, Thanksgiving. Before that, though, we have this week’s playlist, which features songs about religion!

  1. Jeremy Messersmith, “Jim Bakker”: The song that inspired this list all about the life of that “poor, hard-working televangelist.” If you don’t know, Jim Bakker was a snake-oil salesman of the worst sort and fleeced his lovely old congregants for every dime he could.
  2. Genesis, “Jesus He Knows Me”: Could also be about Jim Bakker, for all I know. I just remember how tongue-in-cheek this song sounded when I first heard it, and it still resonates with its strong anti-bullshit message even today.
  3. The Doobie Bros, “Jesus Is Just Alright”: I mean, he’s okay, I guess.
  4. Norman Greenbaum, “Spirit In the Sky”: How confident do you have to be in your soul’s eternal destination to write and record this song? Confident enough that Greenbaum, who is Jewish, said he had a friend in Jesus. That’s ballsy.
  5. George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord”: Admittedly, George was the most spiritual of the Beatles. While Paul was tossing out pop songs like most people breathe and John was pushing avant-garde art on anyone who came to close (and Ringo was…um…Ringo), George was the one who got into Transcendentalism and Eastern religions and the sitar and all that. “My Sweet Lord” isn’t the end result, it’s a symptom.
  6. The National, “Gospel”: What does this song actually have to do with anything related to the Gospel? Nothing, as far as I can tell. But it’s a beautiful song and lovely and I really like it, okay?
  7. Bob Dylan, “With God On Our Side”: Dylan’s a man who knows what’s up. This song was written in like ’64, which is damn-near peak Cold War (or near enough as it doesn’t matter), and he’s coming out so strongly anti-war that I’m surprised the FBI didn’t have a file on him a foot thick.
  8. Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Blood of the Lamb”: I love me some Mermaid Avenue, and this one – off the second collection – is a stompy, apocalyptic slice of what made the collaboration great.
  9. Aretha Franklin, “Son of a Preacher Man”: Damn, if this don’t just send tingles down your spine, I think you might be dead.
  10. Blind Faith, “Presence of the Lord”: More for Steve Winwood than Eric Clapton, really, ’cause Clapton’s finally shown his true (rather hateful) colors and eff that guy.

Playlist #23 – The All Bob Dylan Playlist

A new volume of the long-running Bootleg Series came out recently, which means I found myself digging into some new-to-me Dylan music over the weekend. My poor wife, bless her, does not care much for mid-80s Bob Dylan (it is an acquired taste), and got really upset with me when she thought I was about to subject her to it yesterday (I wasn’t, in fact, because I know it’s not her thing and I’m not a complete asshole). But it did inspire me to create this week’s playlist, which is full of lesser-known Dylan songs that I really like. These are by no means unknown songs; I’m sure several of you will recognize several of these right off the bat. But they’re not usually going to appear on any best of or greatest hits collection.

  1. “Girl From the North Country (Featuring Johnny Cash)”: Yes, Cash screws up and sings the wrong verse as the second verse, and yes, Dylan does that weird Nashville croon thing that he did for a while in the late 60s and early 70s. But this is still just a gorgeous read on this song.
  2. “Blind Willie McTell”: The latest Bootleg Series features a full-band workup of this song, and while it’s a neat treat to hear, I still prefer this stripped-down, piano-and-acoustic-guitar-only version from Volume 3 of the Bootleg Series. It plays up the melodic relationship to “St. James Infirmary” more (by which I mean it’s just “St. James Infirmary” with different words), and Mark Knopfler’s guitar work is just beautiful.
  3. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”: I’ve enjoyed playing this one on guitar for years (there’s even an old Youtube video of me doing it, if you’re so inclined), and the last verse, with its “I’m going back to New York City/I do believe I’ve had enough” just gets me every time.
  4. “Isis”: Yes, the name is problematic these days, but back when this song was written (for 1976’s Desire), that organization didn’t exist yet. It’s a story of grave robbery, revenge, and love.
  5. “Dead Man, Dead Man”: From the much-maligned “born again” series of albums in the late 70s/early 80s. This one’s a banger, if you ask me.
  6. “Up To Me”: From Biograph. It’s an interesting story song, though I still think I prefer the Roger McGuinn cover to the original.
  7. “Corrina, Corrina”: A subtle song from Dylan off of Freewheelin’. Yeah, I know Dylan’s usually about as subtle as a sledgehammer, but he manages to pull it off on this one. I like the faint drum and bass backing.
  8. “When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky”: Empire Burlesque suffers from 80s overproduction, but this song actually makes it work. The over-processed drum and the synthy horn section really work for me.
  9. “Song To Woody”: From his debut self-titled album. One of Dylan’s earliest originals, and still a sad, heartbreaking song.
  10. “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)”: I love this song primarily for the guitar solo at the end. Whoever’s playing lead on this one just tears it up.

Playlist #1

I’ve started creating weekly playlists, ten songs each. Trying not to repeat artists from week to week or on a playlist. Don’t want to replicate songs from week to week. Here’s last week’s playlist.

  1. Bruce Springsteen, “Ain’t Good Enough For You”: Uptempo and fun, a joyful bop to start us off.
  2. Johnny Cash, “Out Among the Stars”: Could anyone other than Johnny Cash write such a cheerful, uplifting song about a kid committing suicide by cop? No, they could not. And that chorus is awesome.
  3. Dog’s Eye View, “Everything Falls Apart”: You could have told me this song could have been written and performed by any of a few dozen guitar-based alternative rock groups from the ’90s and I would have believed you. It is so completely generic that you could replace the lyrics with gibberish and folks would still bounce around to it.
  4. Bob Dylan, “Positively Fourth Street”: The meanest kiss-off song in the business, even sixty or so years later. No one lays down a sick burn like a scorned Dylan.
  5. The Interrupters, “She’s Kerosene”: Who doesn’t like a little skank in their music? Commies, that’s who.
  6. Madonna, “Like a Prayer”: Remember how controversial this song and video were back in the ’80s? All those burning crosses and the Black Jesus! It’s a damn good song, though.
  7. Phoebe Bridgers, “Kyoto”: I dunno, I like the keyboards.
  8. Redbone, “We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee”: Native American band telling it like it is.
  9. Aimee Mann, “Great Beyond”: I absolutely adore the work of Aimee Mann and I’m kicking myself for the “no back to back songs from the same musician/band” rule I established for myself already.
  10. Hem, “Great Houses of New York”: Every song by this band feels like it belongs with a film. It’s all very cinematic. This song is no exception, except it’s exceptionally amazing. Like all of Hem’s work.

High Water Everywhere

Charley Patton, father of the delta blues, was born in Mississippi in 1891. He only lived until 1934, when he died of heart failure, but in that short 40-odd years, he transformed American music. According to this site, he recorded 57 tracks between 1929 and 1934, including the great “High Water Everywhere.”

Charley’s influence spread far beyond the Mississippi delta, reaching up into Minnesota and grabbing hold of a young Robert Zimmerman. Many, many years later, an older, more grizzled Bob Dylan would record a song that’s a bit of an ode to Charley Patton, “High Water (for Charley Patton)” off his album Love and Theft. The name and basic conceit came from “High Water Everywhere,” written about the great Mississippi River flood of 1927.

So high the water was risin’ our men sinkin’ down
Man, the water was risin’ at places all around
Boy, they’s all around
It was fifty men and children come to sink and drown

Oh, Lordy, women and grown men drown
Oh, women and children sinkin’ down
Lord, have mercy
I couldn’t see nobody’s home and wasn’t no one to be found

Charley Patton experienced the flood firsthand, and his original song is a harrowing exploration of that experience. Dylan’s own lyrical re-imagining takes that experience and renders it in a more expressionist way.

High water risin’, the shacks are slidin’ down
Folks lose their possessions and folks are leaving town
Bertha Mason shook, it broke it
Then she hung it on a wall
Says, “You’re dancin’ with whom they tell you to
Or you don’t dance at all”
It’s tough out there
High water everywhere

Dylan’s words are no less impactful for their more esoteric tone. He cracks a few jokes, throws in a few asides to the audience, and generally keeps things humming along. But there’s one particular pair of lines in the song, a moment that sticks out in my mind or maybe stabs into it like an ice pick of thought. I can’t shake it. It’s:

“Don’t reach out for me, ” she said
“Can’t you see I’m drownin’ too?”

It gives me chills, that couplet. It feels like such a universal sentiment. With my anxiety and depression, it sometimes feels difficult to keep my own head above water, let alone help those around me. “Don’t reach out for me, can’t you see I’m drownin’ too?” It’s overwhelming sometimes. Does that stop me from reaching to help others, or reaching out for help myself? No. We’re all drowning. If I happen to drown but help you survive, isn’t that a worthy sacrifice?

Ten Days, Ten Albums, Some Explanation

Over on Facebook, a bunch of my friends have been doing this thing where they post a series of albums that influenced them significantly. Over the course of ten days, you post ten album covers, but offer no explanation as to how or why you chose the albums you did. I just finished doing it myself, but I enjoy explaining things and going into detail about why I’ve made the choices I made. So, for your reading enjoyment, I present my ten days, ten albums, with some explanation.

1. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes!Damn The Torpedoes

The first Tom Petty album I owned, and the one that I go back to time and time again. The damn thing plays like a greatest hits collection, and there’s not a bad song on there. I still think it’s the most essential Tom Petty album there is, even moreso than Full Moon Fever or Wildflowers (and I’ve already gone on at length about my love for Wildflowers).

2018-04-25 14.22.05.jpg2. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

This album was my introduction to the Flaming Lips (I mean, aside from “She Don’t Use Jelly,” which everyone had heard on 90210). The first song, “Fight Test,” just floored me. The mixture of weird electronic squiggles and beeps with the acoustic guitar and Wayne Coyne’s strained, heartfelt vocals . . . I was hooked.

3. The Beatles, Rubber Soul2009-04-28 15.03.36.jpg

If you didn’t think I was going to include a Beatles album on a list like this, you haven’t been paying attention. The Beatles are the alpha and the omega, the source of everything I love about music, and Rubber Soul is their best album, if you ask me. It’s the perfect balance between their earlier, more raucous work and their later, more deliberate and formalist efforts. They made more interesting and experimental albums after this one, but they never made another album as cohesive and awesome as it.

2018-04-25 14.23.114. Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind

And here’s the requisite Dylan album. Time Out of Mind might seem like an odd choice–there are definitely better Dylan albums to choose from–but it’s the one that had the greatest impact on me. Discovering that he could still produce music that was this visceral and heartfelt, even as his voice broke completely and he seemed well-past his prime . . . it was inspiring. And the songs are pretty damn good, too.

5. Queen, A Night at the Opera2018-04-29 12.37.57

Queen blew my tiny little middle school mind like nothing else. The obvious epic, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is there, but so is the biblical apocalyptica of “The Prophet’s Song” and the nasty character assassination of “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated To…).” The sheer stylistic range on display is incredible, with heavy rockers, music hall goofs, and folky acoustic numbers with soaring harmonies. God, the layered harmonies. And don’t forget Brian May’s guitar work. The album kicks ass from start to finish.

2018-04-27 12.45.596. Pink Floyd, Meddle

This little-known Floyd album is one of my all-time favorites. The pulsing bass of opener “One of These Days,” the dreamy quality of “Fearless,” and the laid-back fun of “San Tropez” and “Seamus” make for a varied, entertaining album that doesn’t get weighed down in the concept album pretensions that most Floyd albums have to deal with. And the closer, the epic “Echoes,” with the sonar ping and murky, underwater feel…classic.

7. Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat2018-04-27 12.46.24

I had the privilege of seeing this album performed live in its entirety last year, and it was one of the best concert experiences of my life. The harmonies are the obvious highlight, but Jenny Lewis’s lyrics and songwriting are just as sharp and incisive as they were almost 15 years ago when this album came out.

2018-04-27 12.46.488. The National, Boxer

My introduction to the National was through a bootlegged live show right after this album came out. The show was made up almost entirely of songs from the new album, and I was intrigued so I sought Boxer out. Now, they’re one of my favorite bands, and this record is the reason why. Personal favorites include “Slow Show” and closer “Gospel,” though there’s really not a bad song on the album.

9. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska2018-04-27 12.47.09

Until the release of the likes of Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils + Dust, Nebraska was a weird outlier for the Boss. Solo acoustic, just his voice and guitar and a harmonica with a four-track recorder: that’s pretty much all there is to Nebraska. But it’s haunting, and glorious, and full of fire and brimstone and the sort of carefully-sketched character studies that Springsteen is known for. It’s the polar opposite of what Springsteen was known for: stripped down instead of piled high with overdubs, loose and slightly sloppy instead of precision-perfect.

2018-04-27 12.47.30

10. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

My introduction to Wilco came when I was listening to a Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket fame) bootleg solo acoustic show. Folks in the audience were calling out what they wanted to hear next, and some dude kept asking him to play a Wilco song. And then he threw in a reference to them in one of his own songs, and I decided to check them out. YHF blew my mind, with its mix of acoustic instrumentation, weird blips and beeps and effects, and phenomenal songwriting. The fact that this album led me to so many other amazing bands–The Minus 5 and Uncle Tupelo being the two most prominent–and also led to me finding out about the Mermaid Avenue collections (Billy Bragg and Wilco play around with old Woody Guthrie lyrics? Hell yes!) is just gravy.

Trouble No More

I’ve been listening to the latest entry in Bob Dylan’s long-running Bootleg Series, Trouble No More, which catalogs his “born again” years, 1979-1981.  It’s mostly just live versions and alternate takes of the songs from his three born again albums: Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love. It’s a pretty limited time frame, not presenting one of Dylan’s most prolific periods (compared to, say, the equally-narrow Basement Tapes era or the early-career Witmark Demos from ’62-’64), and tends to present the same six or seven songs over and over again. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting, worthwhile listen for the Dylan fan.

On the whole, it’s more than a little fascinating listening to these songs. Where the studio versions always seemed a little flat and passionless (ironic, given the subject matter), these live versions come…well, alive. There’s an energy and passion that were definitely absent in the studio versions. Songs like “Precious Angel” and “Solid Rock” sound vital and interesting in a live setting, while songs that were already pretty good — “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Dead Man, Dead Man,” or “Slow Train Comin'” — sound amazing. The band is pretty solid, the backing vocalists are fabulous, and Dylan sounds like a man with conviction, something he was sorely lacking in the studio versions. And this is Dylan, so even though you hear the same song six times in some cases (“Slow Train Comin'” and “Gotta Serve Somebody” both pop up at least six times over the course of the 102 tracks), they often sound drastically different from version to version. This is still Bob Dylan, after all, and he’s always tweaking things and changing it up. The studio version of a Dylan song has always ever been a foundation to build on, not a blueprint that has to be slavishly followed. He changes up time signatures, rhythms, vocal delivery, instrumentation, all in the name of finding the heart of the song. It makes for some fascinating listening.

It’s particularly interesting hearing the few songs from that era that didn’t end up on an album, such as the breezy “Caribbean Wind,” the reggae-tinged “Cover Down, Pray Through,” or the bluesy, chugging “Yonder Comes Sin.” One wonders why these songs were left off the albums in favor of other (in many cases, weaker) songs.

I will admit, 102 tracks is a bit of a slog. I have to listen in smaller chunks (and not just because I really only listen to music on my way to and from work), mostly so I don’t hear two versions of “Slow Train Comin'” on the same drive. Trouble No More does, at least, reframe this part of Dylan’s career, presenting these songs as vital and energetic instead of flat and lifeless. It’s a nice look at such a divisive period.

Protest Music

If you’ve had a conversation that lasts more than two minutes with me in the past month or so, you’ve probably heard me go off on some rant about the current political climate and America’s current administration.  Believe me, I’d love to talk about something else, but every time I turn around, something new and horrifying has happened and I get angry and riled up all over again.

Now, this may seem tangential, but my creative pursuits go in waves.  Sometimes, I’m all about novel writing, sometimes it’s comics and drawing, and sometimes it’s music.  Lately, it’s been music.  And here’s where it connects: the single upside to my current mood and reaction to American politics has been to write a slew of protest songs.

Now, there’s a long history of musicians picking up an instrument and address injustice and inequality.  Guys like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie made their careers writing songs of protest (sure, Dylan moved away from that pretty quick, but that’s how he started out).  Speaking out for the less fortunate, the voiceless, the silent masses – that’s what protest music is all about.

And so, despite my distaste for the current administration and its policies, my songwriting has felt pretty inspired lately.  I would gladly trade inspiration for a different president, mind you.